Monday 19-12-2016 - 11:59
It is 2016. The Women’s Campaign and Women’s officers across Scotland are fighting to justify their existence. Men’s officers have become a ‘thing’ in the student movement. This has happened in a year when America missed out on an opportunity to elect their first woman President and instead elected a misogynist, racist, ableist and transphobic man.
We still live in a time where women still have to fight for equal pay, where men are constantly saying ‘what about the men?’.
We still live in a world where Olympic medallists are praised for their husband/partner's existence and achievements and make headlines for the swimwear shoots they have done rather than the gold medal around their necks. A world where female politicians are judged on what they are wearing rather than their politics and the amazing work they do. A world where sexual violence and abuse is on the rise. A country where 1 in 7 students experience some form of sexual abuse or violence in their first week of term at university. A country where people continue to think that short skirts, alcohol or flirting is the cause of rape, despite constant efforts to get across the message that it’s rapists that cause rape. A country where a man murders his wife and children and the media cover everything about the man and justify his reasons for killing his wife, but how could he do that to the children?
NUS Scotland’s current President, Vonnie Sandlan, was elected in 2015. She was the first woman president elected to NUS Scotland since 2004. That felt like progress; why then, in 2016 does it feel like we are going backwards?
NUS Scotland Women’s Campaign has played a key role in the fight for equality in Scotland for many years now. In the last year alone, we’ve:
- helped organise and take part in Reclaim the Night marches across the country;
- been a vocal member of the pro-choice campaign and organised demos as part of this;
- joined with Scottish Women's Aid, Rape Crisis Scotland, Zero Tolerance, Close the Gap and Amnesty Scotland to call for a Scottish approach to abortion;
- worked together with Scottish Women’s Aid to encourage students facing abuse at the hands of a partner to seek help;
- lobbied against the abolition of bursaries for NHS students through the #BursaryOrBust campaign;
- worked with the Scottish Funding Council to help Students’ Associations get involved in the roll out of Gender Action Plans;
- published ground-breaking and influential work on the issues faced by student parents;
- highlighted the issue of lad culture on campus;
- launched the #InspireHerFuture campaign to share stories of women working in areas such as sport, science and politics where women remain underrepresented.
Without a full time Women’s Officer, it’s hard to see how all of this work could continue.
NUS UK states liberation is at the heart of its work – indeed, this is a Presidential priority in 2016/17. If NUS UK truly wants to put liberation at the heart of its work, it must fund it. This includes funding a full time Women’s Officer in each corner of the UK to fight the oppression and structural barriers that women face on a daily basis. As well as this, across other liberation campaigns we need part time liberation officers in the nations with staff support behind them ensuring that they are supported to achieve their campaign aims.
The autonomy of the liberation campaigns has long been a key defining factor of them – as well as a source of pride across NUS. I am extremely uncomfortable with the suggestion that the democracy and governance review currently taking place will propose to change this. The review has widely consulted with members across NUS Scotland and wider NUS, and while it has included those who define into liberation campaigns, it has also included those who do not.
Any proposals that would enable National Conference to overturn any policy in any liberation campaign should make everyone deeply uncomfortable. In short, the autonomy of the liberation campaigns and that of the Nations must be respected at all times.
I am committed to protecting the full time Women’s Officer role in Scotland, and to support NUS Wales NEC in protecting their full time Women’s Officer. I will also fight for part time liberation officers in the nations with staff support, funded from NUS UK’s budget.
We are in this together, let’s have a win for liberation.